Australia has been taking some innovative steps to assess and respond to the needs of workers in the new economy. Fresh off the end of hearings in the Howe Inquiry into precarious work, the Fair Work Ombudsman has commissioned a report into unpaid internships within the Australian labour market.
Nick Wilson, the Fair Work Ombudsman, was recently quoted as saying "One thing I did see last year was a fairly outrageous newspaper headline which was talking about using effectively free labour, and it was encouraging people to try internships but effectively not pay people for the time that they worked in the organization. Now that is just simply exploitation, and it is not acceptable."
The Fair Work Ombudsman has retained Andrew Stewart and Rosemary Owens, two University of Adelaide Law School professors, who will examine the rise of unpaid internships and whether this type of employment is being properly regulated. Both are well-respected experts in workplace law and have extensive experience in mechanisms for labour market regulation.
Ms. Owens opined that "We know that anecdotally this issue of internships is one that has grown enormously in recent years. Often it come with either an express or explicit problem that such internships will lead to a paid positions and we understand that is very often not the case and these internships often involve working for very extended periods of time. If it would be wrong to overpay such people then surely it is wrong not to pay them at all. We are interested in looking at the question, there is no prejudgement at all as we know internships are often components of courses that students undertake."
Innovative examinations into various kinds of precarious work in other jurisdictions serve as a juxtaposition into how little capacity exists within the Ontario government to address changes within the labour market. Just from the perspective of governance and public policy development I'll leave you with the question of whether we'll ever see the Ministry of Labour respond in a manner similar to that of the Fair Work Ombudsman's inquiry into the rapid growth of unpaid internships. I'd suggest that we'll never see this sort of response and that should be concerning to any reasonable observer. Finally, here's a video report on insecure work in Australia, see: